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Musical Coordination in a Large Group Without Plans or Leaders

An experiment looked at whether harmony, in its many meanings, might emerge from a tossing together of musicians. This study tells what happened:

Musical Coordination in a Large Group Without Plans Nor Leaders,” Louise Goupil, Pierre Saint-Germier, Gaëlle Rouvier, Diemo Schwarz, and Clément Canonne, Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 20377, 2020. (Thanks to Tony Tweedale for bringing this to our attention.) The authors explain:

“A widespread belief is that large groups engaged in joint actions that require a high level of flexibility are unable to coordinate without the introduction of additional resources such as shared plans or hierarchical organizations. Here, we put this belief to a test, by empirically investigating coordination within a large group of 16 musicians performing collective free improvisation—a genre in which improvisers aim at creating music that is as complex and unprecedented as possible without relying on shared plans or on an external conductor. We show that musicians freely improvising within a large ensemble can achieve significant levels of coordination, both at the level of their musical actions (i.e., their individual decisions to play or to stop playing) and at the level of their directional intentions (i.e., their intentions to change or to support the music produced by the group).”

Improbable Research